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Visitors to Bath’s ancient Roman baths – from which the city takes its name – have been participating in a trial of virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) technology as part of a smart tourism project run by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) to explore the applications of 5G mobile networks.
The £5m project, which is being funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of its 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, has brought together 25 different organisations to develop a 5G testbed in the west of England, with the intention of establishing the region as a world leader in fixed and mobile communications.
People taking part used a smartphone app to download and view VR and AR content at three locations in the bath complex, telling the story of three different periods in the site’s history: its mythical discovery by King Bladud; the baths falling into disrepair after the Romans left Britain; and their rediscovery and renovation in the 19th century.
The animated 3D scenes played out for three minutes, with “hotspots” to allow users to display additional information about their various parts, and were produced by local animators at Aardman, more famous for creating Wallace and Gromit.
“I am proud our region is playing such a pivotal role in both the development of 5G technology and the first trials of these exciting new wireless services,” said West of England mayor Tim Bowles. “We are ambitious to help support a commercial roll out of 5G infrastructure across our region and see 5G as having a role in helping us address mobility across the region and in helping with digital inclusion.
“We are well placed to become a smart region – we are already recognised as a centre of excellence, as home to the largest cluster of digital expertise outside London. We are leading the way in technology and our businesses and universities are at the forefront of innovation in next-generation networks, including 5G, such as the University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab, where our 5G testbed is hosted.”
Tim Warren, leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “We’ve got an impressive team of experts, from the creative and tech sectors, which has developed a really imaginative and immersive experience for mobile users, so it’s brilliant that we can trial this with people in Bath.”
Read more about 5G in the UK
- A report released through the government’s 5G Testbeds and Trials programme has recommended the UK rethink its mobile security strategy.
- Mobile operator EE is working hand-in-hand with its largest enterprise customers to realise the potential of its future 5G mobile network.
- Mobile network operator Vodafone claims the activation of a trial site in Manchester marks the first time mobile data traffic has been streamed to and from the internet exclusively over 5G technology.
Besides the Roman baths, additional 5G infrastructure to support the Smart Tourism project has been deployed nearby at Bristol’s M Shed local history museum, as well as in and around the city’s science learning centre We The Curious and in the public spaces around Millennium Square in support of further trials planned through to March of 2019.
While 5G is obviously not yet commercially available, and the Roman baths have no plans themselves to offer VR experiences to the public at this time, WECA said the trials would demonstrate how 5G can support new ways of being a tourist.
“We all want to have fast, reliable and uninterrupted connectivity on-the-go, which is why we’re rolling out 5G test bed projects like this in the Roman baths,” said digital minister Margot James.
“The use of the new technology will give legions of visitors in the south west the best interactive experience possible, and will help to make the UK a world leader in 5G.”